Thursday, April 30, 2015

Big Inning; Pitching Chart

Season: 12-9; Trip: 3-0
Wrap, Box, Morning Call

The Bulls play an early morning game today, at 10:35, and then move on to a 3-game set in Rhode Island before they come home. So far the trip has been a good one, including last night.

Last night was a game with a sudden dramatic series of events in the 4th inning and then a good job of keeping things on track. With two outs and two runners on Taylor Motter, Alexi Casilla, and Mikie Mahtook drove in five runs to put the game away.

Today's Chart - Bulls Pitching - ERA

This chart looks at the ERAs of Bulls pitchers. ERA (earned run average) is a stat that has gone out of fashion among the sabremetricians, and for a lot of good reasons. Our purposes, however are a bit different from most. What we’re interested in is team pitching performance and trends. For that purpose, the number of earned runs per nine innings — ERA — is a decent metric. We’ll chart a couple of others as the season goes along.

What we have here is the cumulative ERA of the team, the starters, and the relievers, over the last 15 games. That is, after each game we add up the total number of innings and earning runs and calculate the ERA. This is a very small sample size, so you can expect (and you can see) a good bit of variability this early in the season. But a few things are obvious, one being that the relief crew isn’t doing all that good a job at the moment. We should not put too much stock in that just yet because the sample size problem is even worse. Relievers have pitched 71 innings to the starters’ 112 ⅔. Note that the Bulls have had 17 different pitchers on the mound so far this year, ranging from Matt Buschmann’s 25 ⅔ innings to Jose Dominguez’s 2.

The team ERA of 3.09 ranks the Durham Bulls as 5th in the International League, below league-leading Buffalo’s 2.06 and well above the league-worst Louisville’s 4.93.

click on chart for larger image

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Motter Runs; First Chart

Season: 11-9; Trip: 2-0
Wrap, Box, Morning Call

All I was able to catch of last night’s game was the 9th inning. The links provide the basics. Have to point out, however, Taylor Motter’s 3 stolen bases, double and two walks. He was playing second base last night.

And there was the thrill of closer Ronald Belisario, after two quick outs, letting runners get to second and third base before getting the third out. Good for the listener’s heart.

First Chart of the Year

As regular readers know, I love trying to put together pictures of how the Bulls are doing. What I mostly like to do is find a way to show a trend, and I prefer trying to describe team stats rather than individual stats.

Today’s chart is an example of that way of thinking. Rather than a static standings box, I like seeing where a team has been by showing games above/below a .500 win/loss average. That gives you a quick look, for example, at the great run the Bulls have been having over the last week. And it’s a quick glance at how they are shaping up against the rest of the division. To relate back to the usual table, each tick mark in the spread between teams is ½ a game. The Bulls are, thus, 2½ games ahead of Gwinnett, a ½ game back of Norfolk, and a full game back of Charlotte, just as it shows in the conventional standings.

click on chart for larger view

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It Was a Dark and Windy Night, But ...

Season: 10-9; Trip: 1-0
Wrap, Box, Allentown Morning Call, Noise Nation

It was a miserable night in Allentown, 55° and windy, and from the first it looked as if the IronPigs would have the edge. Do you get used to that windy, cold place? Maybe not. Especially in the 4th when the wind helped former Bull Russ Canzler to a double and he eventually came around to score.

Speaking of Russ Canzler, since he broke into AAA with a great year with the Bulls in 2012 he has become possibly the leading expert on International League ballparks and locker rooms. He’s had playing time with the Columbus Clippers (Cleveland), the Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh), the Norfolk Tides (Baltimore), the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (New York), and he is now in his second season with Philadelphia’s Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He had a pretty good spring. We liked him as a Bull. Always a threat since those days.

It was the 6th inning that did in the IronPigs. Wind starting helping rather than hindering when Mikie Mahtook tripled and then came home on a Joey Brown Butler [Sorry, Joey] double. Then an error (the ‘Pigs had 4 on the night, one by each infielder) put runners on first and third. A Luke Maile sacrifice fly brought in another run. A Eugenio Velez single put runners on first and second. But a spectacular catch by ‘Pigs center fielder Bugusevic kept things on track. However, a double brought home both runners and the Bulls had four runs in. Then the wheels really came off. The ‘Pigs changed pitchers and reliever Adam Loewen walked the next four batters, pushing in two more runs. Pitching change and a popup ended the inning.

That was enough. An ugly win, but still a win.

Rosterfication —
  • I’m losing track of all the roster moves, but for the record, Alan Dykstra is now with the team.
  • Reliever José Dominguez is back from Tampa Bay.
  • Reliever Jhan Marinez has been called up from from Montgomery to pitch for the Bulls (he got in an inning Sunday night).
  • Pitcher Jim Patterson has been sent to “extended Spring Training”, which is sort of like being assigned to Hudson Valley. Wink, wink, he’s probably still around, just can’t come into a game.
  • Have I mentioned that Everett Teaford got called up the other day? He pitched in the Rays loss at Yankee Stadium last night. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Split, Bulls Hit the Road

Season: 9-9; Home Stand: 5-2
Wrap, Box 1, Box 2

A 5-2 home stand is a very good showing. Especially since we have to say that the weather was not good for baseball the entire time.

Alex Colome’s start in game 1 was very, very nice. Unlike some rehab experiences we’ve had over the years, this was a good one for the Bulls. Since the Bulls are off to Pennsylvania, my guess is that if Colome gets another rehab start before going back into the Rays rotation, it won’t be with the Bulls.

Meanwhile, Alexi Casilla had a terrific game with 3 hits (two doubles) and 2 RBI in the 7-inning game. The two that he got across with his double in the 6th turned out to be game winners. The other two RBI were from, who else, Mikie Mahtook. He’s having quite a year.

Have to mention Gwinnett’s young pitcher (at least I don’t have to try to guess how to pronounce his name), Mike Foltynewicz. He took the loss, but a guy who routinely chunks 97 mph fastballs is going to get some big league time. And he’s fun to watch.

Old-time Bulls fans would recognize the kind of shuffle in the lineup for the second game. We saw Vince Belnome, who has started at 1B almost every, if not all, games this season, playing third. Leonard Reginatto, who had played 3B since come up, was moved to 2B. J.P. Arencibia was at first. Taylor Motter (who is not having a very good year so far was in right.

Meanwhile, the one pitcher we Bulls fans would have chosen to come in the game in relief, had an awful night. Kirby Yates gave up three runs in just 2/3 of an inning and took the loss. All reports had been that the only reason Mr. Yates was back with the Bulls had to do with the Rays roster shuffling and his option status. I hope that’s the case. He’s only had three outings with the Bulls and, except for yesterday, he’s done well.

Not much to say about Bulls bats in the second game.

Outside the game —

  • The Bulls are off for their first games outside the division. They start with the Phillies affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, for four games, then over to Pawtucket, Rhode Island for three games with the Red Sox AAA team. 
  • The ‘Pigs are off to a rough start at 5-13. They are followed by one of the rare fan blogs in minor league baseball. Kram has just put up his assessment of the pitching staff.
  • A couple of places (e.g., here) are reporting that Alan Dykstra is on his way back to the Bulls. Guess we’ll have to see how that plays out. My initial report didn't not mention that he'd been designated for assignment which meant that might have been claimed by another team.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Durham Bulls Back to .500 on Walk Off

Season: 8-8; Home Stand: 4-1; Standings
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun [paywall]

Joey Butler was last night’s hero accounting for half of the Bulls’ RBIs, most spectacularly with the walk-off home run that won the game. At 29 he’s one of the senior members of the team and he’s got plenty of AAA time under his belt, parts of 5 seasons, not counting a stretch in Japan last year. He has some major league time with both the Rangers and the Cardinals. [stats] Happy to have him here to hit the first Bulls homer over the Blue Monster that I’ve seen this year, plus the double to right field in the first inning.

Nice ending to what was something of a struggle for starting pitcher Dylan Floro and reliever Jim Miller. Floro gave up two home runs (in the 2nd and the 4th), but it was the lengthy 5th inning where he seemed to lose his touch. Jim Miller, at 33 the elder statesman of the bullpen crew, came in to end the 6th and had a clean 7th. However, he gave up the tying run in the 8th, setting the stage for Joey Butler’s heroics.

Mikie Mahtook was back in town after a very short, one game, no plate appearance visit with the Rays. He has not lost his touch. He got on base 4 out of five times with a walk, a hit-by-pitch and two singles. He scored three runs, to include the winning run when driven in by Butler’s homer.

Coming to the Bulls with Mahtook was first baseman Allan Dykstra. Mr. Dykstra was on the Bulls roster at the beginning of the year, but got called up to the Rays before the Bulls’ first game. That was the first visit of the 28 year old to the big leagues. He spent 2014 with the Mets AAA team out in Las Vegas with some pretty good power hitter numbers (OPS: .930 in 117 games with 16 home runs and 74 RBI. Stats.) Not a strong debut, 0-4 as the DH.

Rosterizing —
  • As mentioned, Mikie Mahtook is back. Alan Dykstra is now with the team. Catcher Mayo Acosta is off to “Hudson Valley”.

Friday, April 24, 2015

House of Durham Victorious!

Wool E. Bulls Arrives (check video board behind him)

Season: 7-8; Home Stand: 3-1
Wrap, Box

Wool E. Bull rode in on a horse and everyone had a great time to the sound of Game of Thrones music. A terrific GoT-themed video (see below) played a couple of times and every ballplayer was given a GoT-themed image for his at-bat. Good idea, hope the auction went well.

Meanwhile there was a lot to like and a lot that was worrisome about the game. Likes included Scott Diamond’s start and Andrew Bellatti’s first appearance as a reliever (he’s had two starts so far this year). I’m just guessing, but possibly Alex Colome’s rehab start allowed the Bulls to move Bellatti into the role he was hired for.

Likes also included a walk, two singles, a RBI, and decent 3B play by Leonardo Reginatto in his first AAA game; a breakout game at bat by Curt Casali with 3 singles, a walk and an RBI (more about that RBI later); and a home run by Alexi Casilla.

Worrisome aspects were the 14 men left on base; yet more errors leading to unearned runs; DH J.P. Arencibia’s 4 K’s; and the fact that only one of the first 24 batters got the ball out of the infield.

But we would not be doing our job if we didn’t point out the oddity of the game that led to the first Bulls score. Vince Belnome got to first base when Charlotte pitcher Erik Johnson botched a routine toss to 1B. He moved to 2B on a walk handed out to Joey Butler. After J.P. Arencibia K’d for the second out, Johnson got to a 3-2 count on Curt Casali. So the runners were going. Groans from our part of the stands as he hit a sky-high popup over the middle of the infield. Suddenly we were visited by a flashback to our little league days as the ball landed in the dead center of the pitcher’s mound with the pitcher, shortstop and first baseman all staring at as it rolled off. Meanwhile Belnome trotted on home.

Rosterization —
  • Mikie Mahtook called up to the Rays (sigh). Bulls are one short at the moment. He did not play last night. The Rays have twelve players on some sort of disabled list, but that doesn’t count the four on the Bulls roster also on a disabled list. At least I don’t think it does.
Outside the Game —
  • My blogging colleague over at Noise Nation (KramsKorner) who follows the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies), has put up a cautionary post I commend to all of you. Fortunately, no one reading this blog is likely to need the caution. None of us ever turn our backs to the game when someone’s at bat, do we?
Meanwhile, here’s the very cool Game of Thrones video that won’t mean a thing if you’ve never seen the show, but nice music anyhow.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Last Minute Loss; More Rosterization

Season: 6-8; Home Stand: 2-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun [paywall]

I wasn’t able to make it to the park last night. Was able to listen to the 9th inning. Exciting, but the Knights closer did what closer’s do.

In the meantime...

Rosterization —
  • One Rays blogger is now referring to his team as the Tampa Bay Bulls, seems apt. 
  • Ryan Brett, who started the season with the Bulls and played in 7 games, then went to the Rays and played in 3 games, hurt his shoulder and went on the Rays' DL.
  • Which led to  the Bulls' Jake Elmore going up to the Rays yesterday. Elmore had a pinch hit home run in his one and only at bat last night. That puts him into the statistical stratosphere of an OPS of 5.000! At least until his next AB.
  • To make room on the Tampa Bay 40-man roster, they moved former Bull Jeff Beliveau to the 60 day disabled list as he heads for the operating room today to fix a shoulder problem.
  • Why wasn’t Hak-Ju Lee, who is on the 40-man called up? Hard to say. But Elmore’s stats, team best OBP and third best OPS, were much better than Lee’s. 
  • To fill Elmore’s slot on the Bulls, Leonardo Reginatto, a youngish infielder from Brazil who has been working his way up through the Rays system is up from Montgomery to get his first taste of AAA ball. [stats]
Outside the game —
  • From time to time we get questions about the pay for minor leaguers. Turns out that at least some of them are taking the bizarre position that they should be paid at least the federal minimum wage! Imagine that! And they have filed a lawsuit. See today's feature in USA Today for more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Education Day Win

Season: 6-7; Home Stand: 2-0
Wrap, Box

If you have never been to an “Education Day” at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, then you have missed an experience. Just imagine the park seething with thousands of youngsters (mostly middle schoolers, I think). No chance of getting to a concession stand, so bring your own snacks. Most of the children seem to be moving in colorful packs through the concourse. And they can be LOUD. But it’s fun. However, as an indication of their interest in baseball, they were collecting autographs from the peanut guy, who was able to get his call and response thing going late in the game. The next, and only other, Education Day is May 7th, against Buffalo. Check it out.

The baseball was fun as well. Alex Colome, who spent most of the last two years with the Durham Bulls, is with the team on a rehab assignment. Not sure for how long. He’s recovering from a bout of pneumonia and is on a limited pitch count. Today it was reportedly 75 pitches and he left the game at 77 pitches.

How did he do? Just OK. Plenty of velocity and a slowish curve ball that I don’t recall seeing last year. Odd collection of hits (4), walks (3), and strikeouts (6) over his 3⅓ innings. Did not hear how much longer he will be with the Bulls.

Meanwhile Joey Butler and new guy J.P. Arencibia were having fun at bat. Butler tripled and scored two runs. Arencibia had a timely sacrifice fly and a late inning RBI single. A home run from leadoff man Eugenio Velez was a pretty thing to watch.

Speaking of watching, Mikie Mahtook firmly established his credentials as a center fielder. Chasing down a fly ball in the 5th he crashed into the wall, and broke it, knocking one of the padded panels out. Game was delayed for several minutes while the ground crew went out to fix the panel. Then in the 7th he timed a catch and throw perfectly, making it an easy out on the runner trying to move from second to third.

Outside the game —
  • For all the stats geeks out there: Jeremy Dowdy, the Charlotte Knights catcher, was playing in his first game at the Triple A level. In four plate appearances he had two singles and two walks. What’s his OPS? 

After the Deluge, First At-Home Win

Season: 5-7; Home Stand: 1-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun [paywall]

The storms came and the fans stayed home (or went home) before Everett Teaford & Co got to show their stuff. The tarp crew has really earned its pay so far this year, and the year is very, very young.

Nevertheless, the Bulls have their first win at home and their first error-free game of the season.

After a 1½ hour delay Mr. Teaford started the game in control and stayed that way. It should be noted that the last time he started a game  there was a 2½  hour delay (Apr 15, the home opener). Perhaps the rain gods just don’t like him.

So very happy to have Mikie Mahtook back on the team. A timely hit in the 5th drove in two runs and a fielder’s choice in the 7th brought home a runner from third.

Jared Sandberg obviously likes having this team run. I’ve lost track of how many runners have been thrown out at home, at least a couple. The Bulls have 11 stolen bases so far, but have also been caught 7 times.

Outside the game —
  • Alex Colome is in town for a rehabilitation start. He was in the Bulls rotation for much of 2013 and 2014 and we were never particularly impressed. He was tipped to be in the Rays starting rotation before pneumonia kicked him onto the disabled list. Rehab starts are not always a good thing for Bulls fans. We’ll have to wait and see.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Split; Bad News, Good News

 Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

Season: 4-7; Trip: 1-1
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

The Bulls split their series with the Norfolk Tides. The Bulls spoiled the Tides home opener on Saturday, but yesterday’s game was a bit of good news and bad news.

Bad news first: This is a very error-prone team. In fact, the Durham Bulls are the worst in the International League with 19 errors in 11 games. Of the 50 runs scored against the Bulls, 13 have been unearned.

Consider yesterday’s 5th inning. At that point the Bulls were ahead 2-0. However, a walk put a runner on 1B, an error by Taylor Motter (his fourth) put runners on 1st and 2nd. Before the inning was out those two runners scored as did one more. That was enough to win the game for the Tides.

Which leads us to the good news, even if it is a bit odd. Young Dylan Floro pitched a complete game loss. He had a terrific game allowed just four hits and one earned run over 8 innings.

Dylan Floro came to the Bulls with an impressive résumé spending 2012, 2013, and 2014 coming up through the Rays system. His manager at Charlotte was the young Jared Sandberg. Last year he had some very nice numbers in 28 starts (a WHIP of 1.307) and he’s doing even better this year (WHIP 0.895). So keep an eye on the schedule if you want to see some interesting pitching.

Both pitchers were exceptionally efficient. Game time was just 2:11.

Outside the game —
  • Kirby Yates is back on the Bulls’ roster and he pitched an inning in Saturday’s win. Mr. Yates was an exceptional reliever for the Bulls last year and we did not expect to see him back ever again. Here’s hoping that his time with the Bulls is both productive and brief. Not clear why he’s here, but the Rays are nothing if not confusing regarding their pitching turmoil this year.
  • Brandon Gomes, who was doing OK in four appearances as a Bull, 5⅓ innings, WHIP of 1.312, is back on the Rays 40-man roster and back with the Rays. The Rays Designated for Assignment former Bull (15 games in 2008) Grant Balfour. I can’t imagine a circumstance where he would end up with the Bulls.
  • Mayo Acosta returned from Hudson Valley.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Not a Good Home Stand

Season: 3-6; Home Stand: 0-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun [Paywall]

We saw youngish (26) Jim Patterson a few times early last year. He went back to Montgomery for the rest of 2014. [stats]. After one inning in relief by new guy Andy Oliver, Mr. Patterson came on in the 6th inning with the Bulls up 2 to 1. He got out of the inning, but first gave up a single, two wild pitches, and a walk, putting runners on first and third with just one out. A popup to the catcher and soft line drive to Lee at SS let him escape.

The 7th started with a single and a fly out to center field. But then there was a walk, followed by a visit to the mound by new pitching coach Kyle Snyder. Impossible to know what Snyder and Patterson talked about. It sure seemed to us that when Snyder got back to the dugout he and manager Jared Sandberg decided to let Patterson twist in the breeze (or maybe it was before Snyder went to the mound). No pitcher began warming up. Instead we fans were treated to: a hit batsman that loaded the bases; a single that scored two runs; a single that scored another run; a sacrifice fly that scored a run; a single; and, at last, a grounder to short to end the inning. 4 runs. Bulls behind 5-3. At the end of the inning there still wasn't a reliever warming up.

Déjà vu, we’ve seen this before, just the day before. On Thursday Matt Buschmann was similarly left dangling.

Interesting, if that’s what you want to call it, but my section of the stands got up and left after that, even though the game was not out of reach. That did not happen until the 9th when 4 runs were scored off of Jim Miller. Still, the pitching side of this year’s crew leaves something to be desired.

On the other side, Taylor Motter had a good night. Mr. Motter is one of the few “prospects” on this year’s Bulls team. At 25, he is working his way up through the Rays system. He had a good year at Montgomery last year (stats) but had only had one hit so far this year in 22 ABs. He went 4 for 5 last night (single, two doubles, and a home run). He has experience at 3B, so we might see him there this year as well.

Outside the game —
  • C.J. Riefenhauser was called up to Tampa Bay. He pitched a scoreless 7th inning for the Rays last night.
  • Ryan Brett, who’s been playing mostly at 2B, was called up. He was the Montgomery Biscuits’ MVP last year and, with Motter, a ‘prospect’. [stats] Apparently callup related to Longoria injury.  As a Bull, he had 6 games at 2B and 2 in the outfield (first pro experience in the outfield) and was hitting .226 in 31 ABs. He will be back.
  • Catcher Mayo Acosta was “assigned to Hudson Valley”. For those new to WDBB, assignment to the Hudson Valley roster is usually a paper transaction. It does not mean that Acosta has left the team, but it does mean that he cannot play in a game until he’s added back. Acosta has played in two games this year and is 0-4, so far.
  • Outfielder Mikie Mahtook is back from Tampa Bay. We saw him in the dugout last night, so he hurried back. As far as I can tell, he almost no playing time with the Rays, although he did hit a pitch hit home run as his first major league hit.
  • Relief pitcher Andy Oliver was recently signed by the Rays and sent to Durham. Story here. He has a lot of AAA time with Toledo (Detroit) and Indianapolis (Pittsburg) both as a starter and as a reliever. [Stats] He pitched last night, as noted above, and did OK. First game appearance this year.
  • J.P. Arencibia has also been signed to a minor league deal and sent to the Bulls. We saw him leaning on the dugout rail last night. Although he has played catcher most of his career, reportage out of Tampa implies he is lined up for a DH/1B role. [stats]
  • Six transactions in one day! And the Bulls are still short one player for their active roster.
  • I tried the Rise Donut stand on the 1B side of the concourse last night. Apple fritter was terrific! Will be working my way through their offerings.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Two Down, But Hey! It's Baseball!

Season: 3-5; Home Stand: 0-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun [paywall]

Great to be back at the park! We have new seats over on the first base side of the stadium, and we like them. The 20 minute delay led to some apprehension on our part, but in the end, it was a pleasant night — at least the weather was nice.

On the field, it could have been better. Hak-Ju Lee did have his first good night of the year with a nice play in the field (and no errors), a bunt single, and a double. But he was the exception. The Bulls had opportunities in the 5th and again in the 9th, but Norfolk’s pitching prevailed.

Durham’s starter, Matt Buschmann, had the longest outing of any Durham pitcher so far this year, 7 innings (97 pitches) — 6 ⅔ would have been better, although possibly would not have made a difference in the game outcome. No one was even warming up at the beginning of the inning and Mr. Buschmann got two quick outs. But then 3 hits and two runs later the game was pretty much out of reach. Seems odd to let a pitcher go so long so early in the season.

This Norfolk team looks good. The South Division might be much more competitive this year.

Outside the game —
  • The new pitch clock was counting away and proved to be mostly a distraction. We quickly stopped paying attention. On the other hand, it seems to be working. In the 8 games so far the games have averaged two hours, 45 minutes. But that includes an 11 inning game (3:29) and a slugfest, 20 run game (3:24). At a guess, I think we can expect to be getting out of the park at a bit less than 3 hours, probably close to 2:30 most nights. The difference, it would seem, is in the between-innings time and the time for relief pitchers to get ready.
  • The new microbrewery Bull Durham Beer Company looks very cool. I look forward to tasting the beer. Probably will be brewing and selling by the next home stand. In the meantime they’ve got folks (Head Brewer Tate Little last night) there who like to talk about what they are up to.
  • We did not try any of the new concessions.
  • Have to say that the playing field does not look all that good, yet. Pretty scruffy, in fact. Apparently waiting for the summer before it really starts looking good. Meanwhile, it does seem to be playing well.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Opening Day Dismal; Rosterification

DBAP 10:15 16 Apr 2015

Season: 3-4; Home Stand: 0-1
Wrap, Box, News & Observer, Herald-Sun

My condolences to: the players, the staff, the ground crew, and to us fans. By far the most miserable home opener in memory. I have to be honest: I was watching the webcam from home and when they had not pulled the tarp by 8:00 I decided not to go to the game.

And that was just the rain and wind ...

First look (via MiLB TV) at 30 year-old Alexi Everett Teaford. He grew up in the KC Royals system, had a decent 2011 with the Royals, so-so 2012, and spent most of 2013 pitching in Korea. [stats] He looks to be a product of the Rays search for value. Last night he had trouble right from the start and never quite recovered.

Meanwhile, the Tides’ Mike Wright pretty much handcuffed Bulls’ hitting.

Outside the game —
  • Bulls reliever José Dominguez, whom we’ve never seen, got called up to the Rays and put in a very clean 1⅓ scoreless innings for them last night.
  • Veteran Ronald Belisario has been added to the Bulls roster. Thirty-two year-old Belisario was signed to a minor league contract by the Rays and was thought to be in serious contention for a bullpen job until he discovered he’d fractured his off-shoulder in a swimming pool incident earlier this winter. He had a good ⅔ of an inning for the Bulls last night.
  • Meanwhile, Mikie Mahtook got his first big league hit and it was a big one a home run. Video here. Story here.
  • Lastly, WDBB favorite Kirby Yates is coming back for what could be a very short stay. The way it seems to work is that when a major leaguer gets sent “down” he can take a couple of days to get here. A player going “up” catches the next plane. In Yates’ case he simply was the odd man out as the Rays are attempting to manage a very complicated starter/reliever situation. There’s a chance that he may never pitch an inning for the Bulls.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Opening Day 2015

These guys look like they are ready to play ball!

Renovations to the park appear to be complete!

Come early. 6:00 first pitch. Parking can be a problem!

Don't let the weather predictions worry you!

2015 Durham Bulls Baseball is here!

Photo credits (Top to bottom) Durham Bulls, 1913; Durham Athletic Park, 1940's; East Durham Baseball Park, 1920's; Hurricane Fran comes inland, 1996.

Bats Come Alive in Charlotte

Wrap, Box
Season: 3-3
Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

The Bulls ended their road trip with a bang(s), three home runs (included a grand slam by DHing Cory Brown), 3 doubles, and 12 runs. The slam in the 6th made it 10 to 5, but three unearned runs put the game back in reach if not for Luke Maile’s first AAA homer in the 8th.

Dylan Floro, who is the IL’s pitcher of the week, gave up a bunch of runs, but the young prospect stayed in there for the win.

The 12 runs on 17 hits (29 total bases) sets the bar pretty high for this year. Are we seeing a hint of an old-fashioned Bulls team? Maybe.

Meanwhile, we simply haven’t seen these guys at all (except through Patrick Kinas’ word pictures and some not-very-good MiLB streaming). It will be good to finally see the team on the field.

Four more errors last night. That’s 13 so far this season. Of the 23 runs scored on the Bulls in six games, 9 were unearned.

Outside the game —
  • The South Division looks competitive. After six games every team in the South is 3-3.
  • Fellow blogger Noise Nation, who writes about the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, got a peek at the hardware driving the new pitch clocks. Gonna be interesting. Sounds like the ‘Pigs fans don’t think too much of them.
  • How seriously do I take my baseball. Let’s just say that I scheduled my cataract surgery for last Monday so that I would be able to see tonight’s game!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Split, On to Charlotte

Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

Season: 2-2
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

We certainly can’t make any pronouncements on a team we have yet to see, but we can hope about a few things. One would be for fewer errors as the season goes along. So far they have six, three by Hak-Ju Lee, which may not mean anything much at all, but is something to worry about. Those errors have led to a bunch of unearned runs (5 if I’m counting right). So that’s worrisome.

As they headed towards Charlotte last night a couple of hitters should be optimistic about the season. Among them Vince Belnome (4 hits, 5 BB, OPS - .902), infielder Eugenio Velez (4 hits, 3 BB, OPS - 1.045), and outfielder Joey Butler (4 hits, 4 BB, OPS - 1.271). At the other extreme catchers Curt Casali and Luke Maile, and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee are off to slow starts.

Today we will see/hear about the 5th starter, and we’ll be able to gain some sense of at least the starting rotation. However, we also have to expect more than a bit of roster turmoil as the Rays get healthier (assuming that’s what happens).

Two for two is a decent start.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Rain, Extra Innings, First Loss

Season: 1-1
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post, Braves Wrap

Probably just about anyone could take a look at a lengthy game and try to find a decisive moment — other than the walk-off winning hit, that is. I’ll go for the back-to-back errors in the 6th, one by second baseman Ryan Brett and then another by shortstop Hak-Ju Lee. Some potential for a double play in each instance.

On the other hand, the Braves gave up a couple of freebies as well. Maybe a wash. When you have a hour and a half rain delay and then go into extra innings, the game turns into a crap shoot.

Outside the game —
  • Very nice to learn that Patrick Kinas is back on the microphone, and on FM 99.3. So we have three ways to listen to the game this year: AM on 620, FM on 99.3 (which reaches my house much better than AM), and streaming. You can stream over the web or via the “First Pitch” app. I’m not a big fan of the app because it will really eat up a data plan if you aren’t on a wireless network.
  • We are interested in the Durham Bulls as a team itself, but the for Rays bloggers, the Bulls exist to feed folks into the machine. For an assessment from that perspective, check out this article by Robbie Knopf over at Rays Colored Glasses.
  • For more on Mikie Mahtook’s callup there’s this. He pinch hit last night, but did not get on base. Very weird bit of baseball strategy going on in that game, by the way.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Durham Bulls Open With a Win

Season: 1-0; Trip: 1-0
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

Nice start for the Bulls, especially the pitching. Young (24) Dylan Floro threw six innings of 1-hit, shutout ball in his first game in Triple A. Can’t ask for anything better than that. Brandon Gomes followed with two innings (and 3 Ks) and then José Dominguez closed it out. No walks at all. Plus the game wrapped up at 2 hours, 10 minutes. Looks like the speed-up rules might be making a difference.

Meanwhile Joey Butler got the only run of the game with his home run in the 2nd inning. Butler comes to the Bulls after a career mostly in the Texas system. [stats] Look to see him in the outfield and as a DH this year. With a lifetime AAA OPS of .872, he’s got some pop. Could be a fun guy to watch this year.

Catcher Luke Maile, who spent last year in Montgomery, showed off his arm by throwing out Gwinnett’s Eury Perez.

Overall, however, Gwinnett’s pitching kept the Bulls quiet. Only Butler and Vince Belnome had multi-hit games.

Outside the game —
  • As mentioned yesterday, Allan Dykstra was called up to the Rays.
  • The Rays signed Alexi Casilla and assigned him to the Bulls. The 30-year old Casilla spent most of last year with the Norfolk Tides as a middle infielder. He may join the team today.
  • Missing will be outfielder Mikie Mahtook, who, as reported earlier this morning, will be in a Rays uniform tonight.

Mikie Mahtook Called to the Rays

Mikie Mahtook had a terrific evening in the outfield down in Georgia last night, but the post-game must have been even better. He’s on his way (already there?) to join the Tampa Bay Rays down in Miami, Florida. Assuming he gets an early AB it will be his first as a major leaguer.

Congratulations and Good Luck!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Dykstra to Rays

If you looked closely at yesterday’s Orioles-Rays box score (I did not) you might have noticed that a guy we expected to see playing for the Bulls tonight was down there in St. Petersburg playing first base, Allan Dykstra. He was called up to fill in for the Rays first baseman.

His two times to the plate were his first ever major league at-bats in his pro career (a RBI-earning BB and a K).  

Shades of last year when Vince Belnome was called up before the season started. At a guess Mr. Dykstra will be back once the Rays’ regular first baseman comes off the DL. Dykstra was the guy who hammered a bunch of home runs for the Triple-A All-Star home run derby last year. Big guy that I was hoping to see bring some power to the Bulls this year. However, here’s his chance. Good luck.

The Process Report, a Rays blog, had a couple of comments on the promotion, here and here.

Season Begins Today

Where the Bulls Are

The Durham Bulls start their 2015 season with a game tonight down in Lawrenceville, Georgia against the Gwinnett Braves (CoolRay field is in Gwinnett County), the Atlanta Braves AAA team. After four games there and then two in Charlotte, the Bulls will finally open at home. Local press preview is in the Gwinnett Daily Post.

As you can see from the map, Coolray Field appears to be a prototypical suburban ballpark. In this case, they are just off I-85, across the interstate from the Mall of Georgia (w/Norstrom anchor store), a Costco, a Sam’s Club and a Wallmart Supercenter. What more could you ask for?

At a guess, fans. The Braves rank next to last in attendance in the International League. Might be a case of being too close to the parent club?

Trivia question: The International League has two parks named after the Coca-Cola brand. Neither is anywhere near the home of the brand in Atlanta. Where are they?

Meanwhile Kip Coons writing for the News & Observer has a interesting season-opening piece that ran this morning.

Speaking of Atlanta affiliates, the Carolina Mudcats are their Advanced A affiliate over east of Raleigh. Also an introductory article in today’s N&O.

How to listen/watch the Bulls today? Assuming things work like last year, go to the website around game time and look for links to audio and video streaming. Audio was free last year. Video required a subscription, and usually brought with it home team play-by-play folks. Some of whom are pretty awful. Have not heard if Patrick Kinas is back. If so, he’s the class act of the bunch and what you may want to do listen to his stream. Radio is probably AM 620.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Durham Bulls Arrive in Durham

Jared Sandberg in the Bulls Dugout, April 7

Rumor has it that yesterday the Trinity College basketball team was coming home from a recent win. That meant that news coverage of the Durham Bulls arrival in town was a bit sparse. Nevertheless, new manager Jared Sandberg did very well.

Check out the Herald-Sun’s story. If you want more depth, the entire interview is up on WRAL’s site. The N&O was there, but apparently all available space in the paper was taken up by the aforementioned basketball team.

Highlights of the Sandberg interview include his thoughts on the effect that the Blue Monster has on hitters (1:41), who will be playing 3rd base (3:40) (Answer: everyone), no set role for pitchers in the bullpen, and observations on the effect of the pitch clock and other rule changes (12:00). He also announced the starting pitcher for tomorrow’s opener at Gwinnett — Dylan Floro.

Mikie Mahtook also took an interview with WRAL. "Happy to be here. Durham Bulls fans are great." And he looked like he meant it.

How’s the park? Not bad. Not great, but maybe as good as it’s been since the renovation/re-dig/replant. Plus the winter was not kind. The theory is that this year's turf will just get better and better. We can hope.

Checking the DBAP out this morning, we can see the Bulls at work. You can check it out yourself at the DBAP webcam link up

Durham Bulls baseball tomorrow!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Durham Bulls Roster Announced

Here's the announcement. This will take me a while to generate some comments. Meanwhile, here it is.

Click for large image

Sunday, April 5, 2015


What is that stuff peeking out near the scoreboard? Could it be … is it … maybe … perhaps … something we haven't seen through the webcam since last fall?


DBAP 1630 5 Apr 2015
Check it out for yourself at the webcam.

Several 2014 Durham Bulls Make the Rays Starting Roster

The Tampa Bay Rays announced their opening day roster [Tampa Bay Times, Rays Index] and several players with substantial recent experience with the Durham Bulls are on it.


The purest rookie of the bunch is middle infielder Tim Beckham. He did get a few at bats with the Rays at the end of the 2013 season, but his on and off status in recent years has been mostly with the Bulls. He got in a few games at the end of 2011, came to the party late in 2012 after a 50-game drug suspension to play in 72 games, put in a full year in 2013, but blew out his knee just prior to spring training in 2014 and did not show up with the Bulls until late in the season. We think it’s great that he’s starting off with the Rays. At a guess, however, he mostly a placeholder for Nick Franklin who is starting the season on the disabled list. We could be seeing Mr. Beckham back with the Bulls by the end of the month. Probably not for the whole season, though, since he seems to be coming into his own and will likely go back to the Rays to stay by the end of the year.

The rest of the recent Bulls list are pitchers, but they are all interesting guys.

Kirby Yates had a terrific year with the Bulls in 2013, banged the door open to the Rays in early 2014, and never looked back. Happy to see him stick with the Rays.

A case could be made that Steve Geltz was the Durham Bulls’ finest reliever in 2013. In 2014 he screwed up and sat out a 50-game suspension before throwing 40+ games in relief and earning a callup (the Bulls could have used him in the playoffs).

We were thoroughly unimpressed with Nathan Karns last year. That goes to show you what we know. He’s in the starting rotation for the Rays this year. Nevertheless, I’d guess that after the platoon of Rays on the disabled list get healthy, he will be back in Durham.

Jeff Beliveau, on the other hand, was a big help to the Bulls in both 2013 and 2014. He went up to the Rays a couple of times in 2013 and put it a good bit of bench/travel time. He had a breakout year in 2014 with the Bulls and went up to the Rays to stay in late July.

Then there’s Matt Andriese, who also did not impress us in 2014, but we did note that he was the best of a not very stellar Bulls starting rotation. However, he won two of the playoff games and he’s now with the Rays as a reliever.

Will we see any of these fellows this year? Probably. The Rays have 5 (count ‘em - 5!) pitchers with various forms of disabledness.

Meanwhile, again, congratulations. Very, very few ballplayers make it to opening day in the major leagues. Have fun.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Hemstitching: Roster Speculation, Mike Montgomery, EJ to LA, and more

In the weaver’s world the word “hemstitching” is used for two purposes: to tie up loose ends (literally, because an “end” is a thread in a warp) and for decoration.
Season begins in 6 days. First home game in 12 days. 
  • If you’ve missed it, check out the latest roster speculations over on the Hit Bulls Win Blog
  • Bulls fans will remember left-hander Mike Montgomery, who showed up in Durham along with Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi back in 2013, out of the Royals system. Odorizzi is the last man standing from that trade as Montgomery is off to Seattle. Montgomery started off 2014 in great style, but his some kind of wall mid-season and never recovered. Odorizzi is set to be a starter for the Rays. Wil Myers is with the Padres.
  • Regular fans are surely going to be asked what’s going on all year with the “pitch clock”. I commend to you all this article about a bunch of “pace of play” changes that will be in place for all of Triple-A this year. I will surely be writing my own summary eventually, but I want to see it in practice first. And listen to what our own Patrick Kinas has to say about it.
  • One of my favorite ex-Bulls, Elliot Johnson, is off to the LA Dodgers. Speculation there is that he will start the season with their Triple-A team the Oklahoma City Dodgers (neé RedHawks). Not my favorite city, but understand they’ve got a nice park. Good luck!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Durham Bulls Basics 2015 - Part 3

The Players

Each major league team has 25 players = 750 major league baseball players. Out of those 25 usually 13 are pitchers and 12 are position players: 390 pitchers (usually 5 starters - 150; and 8 relievers - 240); 360 position players. Of those 12 position players most teams have 2 catchers, 5 infielders, and 5 outfielders.

For those 750 guys who are on a major league roster, we have another 750 players divided into 25 man teams who are in Triple-A and, trust me, every one of them could be playing in the major leagues today.

How do the Durham Bulls fit into that?

Well, now, sigh, we need to talk about the Tampa Bay Rays, who own the players wearing the Durham Bulls uniform. To oversimplify just the bit, the Tampa Bay Rays have a contract to provide the Durham Bulls a baseball team. In turn, the Durham Bulls provide a place to play and folks to cheer them on (that would be us).

To clear up some possible confusion, the Tampa Bay Rays play baseball in St. Petersburg, Florida, not Tampa. That may come as a bit of a surprise to those not familiar with Florida geography (or modern marketing strategies).

As mentioned above major league team consists of 25 players on the “active” roster. Those are the guys in the games and in the box scores, traveling in chartered airplanes, and making a decent, sometimes obscene, amounts of money.

The 40-man Roster

An additional 15 players are added to make up a 40-man roster. In general, once a player makes it to the 25-man active roster he stays there (unless traded, sold, or designated for assignment). For players who have been around for a while, there are all sorts of byzantine rules regarding how this works. To complicate matters, the rules were recently changed to allow major league teams to expand their roster to 26 on days that they have a double-header. What matters to Bulls fans, however, is that a Bull cannot be called up to play in a Rays game (even to temporarily replace an injured player) unless he is first on the 40-man roster.

Here in Durham we are not much interested in the active roster. What matters to Bulls fans are those 15 ballplayers who are on the Rays 40-man but not on the active roster. Members of that 15 man group usually make up the heart of the Durham Bulls.

If previous years are typical, we can expect that 11 to 12 of the players on the 40-man will be assigned to Durham and they will probably be split about 6 or 7 pitchers and 4 or 5 position players. Players on the 40-man who aren’t with the Bulls are oddities a bit difficult to explain and don’t really make that much difference to us. Mostly they are playing at AA and lower levels. Of the pitchers, one or two will be prospective starting pitchers, the other potential relievers. Fairly often when WDBB writes about a Bull we will mention whether or not he’s on the 40-man.

What about the rest of the team? Without exception — and this is part of what makes AAA baseball so much fun — they are ballplayers who have played or are judged capable of playing at the major league level. The precise reason why they are not playing today is also part of the fun — too young, too old, no room at the top, needs to work on a specific skill — sometimes all of the above.

The odds of a player called up are pretty good. There are enough injuries and trades in a given year that almost all of the players on the 40-man who start the year with the Bulls will at least get a few days with the Rays. Some will go there and stay.

However, unless Tampa Bay takes someone off the 40-man, a non-40 man player cannot be called up. Adjustment to the 40-man roster can, and does, happen, but not very often. On the other hand, the Rays are nothing if not creative in gaming the major league player rules system.

The 40-man roster also has an effect on how the players who are with the Bulls are used. For example, pitchers may be on limited pitch counts and/or working on specific pitches that the Rays have decided the pitcher needs to develop. Relievers may be tested to see if they can do two days in a row, or “tried out” as a closer. We will see infielders playing the outfield (and vice versa).

My point is that sometimes what we see on the field is decided in St. Petersburg, not in the Bulls’ clubhouse. The Rays really aren’t particularly interested in the Bulls’ won-loss record. So, we will inevitably see some unfortunate (for the Bulls) decisions, such as a player being called up, sitting on the Rays’ bench for a couple of weeks, then coming back to Durham with his timing shot and struggling at bat. And with this new 26 man roster for double header rule, Bulls’ pitching rotations can get really screwed up with a pitcher being called up for a spot start and then coming back.

We cannot avoid the fact that the Durham Bulls live and die at the whim of the Tampa Bay Rays front office. What’s fortunate for Bulls fans is that the Rays have invested a ton of effort into building a steady stream of talent to feed into the big team. More than that, in the Rays system very few upcoming prospects just “pass through” AAA-level ball. Time with the Bulls is a real and very serious testing ground for pitchers and hitters. That means we will get to see a some very talented ballplayers with first rate managing/coaching crew. Lastly, without the Rays we wouldn’t have AAA ball here at all.

All of which is not going to keep me from complaining about the Rays. Hey, it’s baseball!

More Stuff

For  more background on the 113 years of Durham Bulls history, check out the Bulls’ History link page and their Wikipedia page.

For a terrific book about Triple-A baseball, the Durham Bulls, and sheer great writing and photography, you cannot go wrong by picking up a copy of Bull City Summer. Available at local book stores,  the Bulls ballpark store or online shops. We reviewed the book here.

If you missed them, check out Part 1 and Part 2, and you will be the expert in the DBAP this year.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Remembering Sidd Finch

Once each year Watching Durham Bulls Baseball invites our readers to take a moment to recall the all-too-brief career of an exceptional baseball player, and horn player of some note, Sidd Finch.

Photo courtesy Sports Illustrated

For those among you who were witness to those unforgettable events back in 1985, this is a chance to bring that gentle young man back from his undeserved obscurity, if only for a brief stay among us. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Finch’s contributions to the game we commend to you the brilliant essay by George Plimpton in Sports Illustrated that first brought this gentle soul to our attention. 

Photo courtesy Sports Illustrated.

Update for 2015: Mr. Finch's fame has now extended even into the realm of Wikipedia.